The Leaguers: The Making of Professional Football in England, 1900-1939

By Matthew Taylor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
The League, the Public and
the Promotion of Football

While much of the historiography of the commercialisation of sport and leisure has focused on the mid and late Victorian period or earlier, recent studies have confirmed that the first half of the twentieth century represented an equally crucial phase of this commercial revolution.1 Stephen Jones has observed that while leisure was 'in its prototype stage' in the late nineteenth century, between the wars 'it was radically altered if not transformed' and 'brought into the twentieth century'.2 In football, the development of a fully regulated labour market, bureaucratic and administrative structures, and large-scale ground improvements were all prominent features of this period. Ancillary services such as the press and gambling also underwent a significant transformation, while the rise of the football pools and radio broadcasting in the late 1920s and 1930s contributed to the widening of the potential football public and increased opportunities for additional club and League income. The contemporary consensus was that elite professional football was 'big business' in the early twentieth century and had become an industry in its own right by 1939. Paradoxically, however, the role of the Football League and its member clubs in this area has tended to be downplayed: inertia, if not obstinate conservatism, has become the orthodox interpretation of the League's response to the commercialisation of the game. According to this view, rising attendances and widespread financial prosperity worked against thorough commercial exploitation: the League did not expand the commercial side of its operations simply because there was no pressure to do so. More than this, the assumption is that the general increase in gates was a direct by-product of rising working-class prosperity and consumer spending.3 Periods of declining attendances, competition from other sports and entertainments, and the subsequent response of League clubs are rarely brought into the equation.

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